Respected historian Lord Asa Briggs has passed away

Lord Asa Briggs, a well-respected historian and advocate of education, passed away peacefully at his East-Sussex home in Lewes on 15 March 2016.

He led an incredible, fast-paced life and contributed his expertise to a huge number of educational institutes, helping to establish the Open University and Sussex University. During World War II, he was stationed at Bletchley Park where he worked at the code-breaking station that eventually deciphered Germany’s Enigma code.

Born in Keighley, Yorkshire, Briggs attended Cambridge University where he graduated with a BA in 1941, and a BSc in Economics from the University of London External Programme later that same year.

Briggs told History Today about his University interview: “The history fellow who interviewed me in December 1937 – I was only 16 then – said: ‘Briggs, you are only a baby, but there is going to be a war and I would like you to take your degree before you go into uniform’.”

In 1976, Lord Briggs was made a life peer and sat as a crossbencher.

He was a great and influential man who will be missed my many. Pen & Sword Books is incredibly proud to publish his trilogy of Frontline titles.

80 years on: Supermarine Spitfire

On March 5, 1936, Spitfire took to the skies in her maiden flight from Eastleigh, Southampton, with Vickers’ chief test-pilot Joseph ‘Mutt’ Summers in the cockpit.

80 years on she is still celebrated as one of Britain’s masterpieces of aerodynamic engineering.

Designed by R. J. Mitchell, who sadly died of cancer in June 1937, the Spitfire’s iconic and adaptable design allowed for constant improvements, and as such production eventually reached Mark 24.

Our first beloved Spitfire prototype, registered as K5054, was built with a narrow fuselage and the famous elliptical wings that tapered to slender tips. Whilst the unsuccessful Supermarine Type 224 had an open cockpit, Type 300 was enclosed, fitted with breathing apparatus. Originally fitted with a two-blade, fixed-pitch wooden propeller, the K5054 was also home to a Merlin C engine. Throughout Spitfire’s service during the war, the propeller would get through 13 different designs.

After Mitchell’s death, his successor and collaborator, Joseph Smith took over design and production. On August 4, 1938, the Mark I, K9789, was officially entered into service with No 19 Squadron at RAF Duxford, Cambridgeshire. They were the first RAF Squadron to receive the Spitfire. 

Throughout the war, Spitfire was indispensable. She fought alongside Hawker Hurricanes in the Battle of Britain in 1940, played an important role in D-Day 1944 and was sent as far as the Middle East in order to fight in every operational theatre of war.

Development and adaptations of the Spitfire continued until the end of the war. Eventually, new engines were put in place, and from Mark XII onwards, Rolls-Royce Griffon engines were fitted.

Mark XIV, with a maximum speed of 443mph at 30,000ft, was the first Allied plane to take down the first operational jet-fighter, German-built Messerschmitt Me 262. Unfortunately, the Messerschmitt would take over from Spitfire, and lead the way to modernisation of jet-fighters. As such, Spitfire’s post-war production would come to an end, and her service ended in 1954.

By the end of Spitfire’s reign over the skies, her immense development and production saw incredible improvements from the original 300 prototype. Her maximum speed had increased by a third and her engine carried twice the power.

Review: Shot Down

Shot Down by Steve Snyder

Nate Sullivan, of War History Online, perfectly sums up Steve Snyder’s well-executed story of B-17 pilot, Howard Snyder and his crew:

“ A masterful work. Enjoyable for those interested in the Eighth Air Force and/or the B-17 Flying Fortress, but it is also broad enough to appeal to general history readers. Insightful, engrossing, and succeeds on every level. Bravo.”

Shot Down is not just a story, but a perfect memoir to the men that flew and cared for Susan Ruth, Howard Snyder’s B-17, and to all those that fought, flew and died during the Second World War. Not only to the Americans, either. Snyder’s story is equally inclusive of Americans and Brits and does not do one more justice than the other – making sure that this book appeals to readers on both sides of the pond. It is in no way patronising, and it’s simply written nature allows for readers of all interests.

The amalgamation of story and historical facts is seamless, creating an informative and incredibly interesting read.

You find yourself waiting eagerly for more humorous, loving and tear-jerking letters from Howard to his wife, Ruth and laughing at how nothing has really changed from young lovers then, to young lovers now. Snyder retells the tale of how Ruth became pregnant with Baby Susan in 1941; “Ruth pleaded with Howard, ‘Let’s not use anything just this once.’”

Snyder’s perception of the British is absolutely spot-on and brings a smile to your face. The mere mention of Britain instantly brings the story home – it is no longer about a pilot from a far-away land. It starts to have far more substance and meaning for those in Britain. Snyder is sure to mention the prudishness of us Brits and, of course, the English weather; “It has rained every day that we have been in England.”

The mention of rations further aids the readers understanding of the cruelties of war. This is no longer a Hollywood-esque, love-struck tale of two young people surviving the war, it’s a harsh reminder of what war does. No longer do you think of these men as young larks, having fun being pilots. The thought of Michael Caton-Jones’ Memphis Belle (1990) slips away, and you find yourself resisting the urge to skip chapters to find out what happens to Howard Snyder and his crew.

Steve Snyder has done an excellent job of documenting history in a fascinating and gripping way. This is a testimony to his parents, and all those who fought in the war. Definitely worth reading – just try and put it down.

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